12 of South America's Most Epic Hikes You've Never Heard of

Sierra Baguales, Chile
Photo: Courtesy of Awasi Patagonia

You may have heard of Patagonia’s W Trek in Torres del Paine and odds are you’ve even completed the Inca Trail to Peru’s Machu Picchu, but South America is home to far more undiscovered treks than these famous routes. From Colombia to Argentina, the continent is teeming with myriad journeys well-worth the passport stamp and worn legs. Whether you have one day or fourteen, here, your guide to South America’s greatest under-the-radar hikes.

01 of 12

Lost City Trek to Teyuna National Park

Teyuna National Park, Colombia
Courtesy of G Adventures Inc.
  • Where: Colombia
  • Length: 5 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Challenging
  • Why You Should Go: If you’re searching for an undiscovered trail few have traversed, a journey to Colombia’s northernmost wilds is for you. Beginning in Santa Marta with G Adventures, discover the lush jungle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on this challenging trek to Ciudad Perdida, an ancient Colombian city developed by the native Tayrona people. Requiring 1,200 steps to reach the final entrance of Teyuna, it’s estimated only 10 percent of the ruins are unearthed, lending to the mysterious appeal of this forgotten city. Highlights include swimming in the Buritaca River, watching hummingbirds flutter through the trees, and sleeping in open-air hammocks.
02 of 12

Quebrada de Humahuaca to Calilegua National Park

Calilegua National Park, Argentina
Courtesy of GeoEx

Where: Argentina
Length: 6 days
Level of Difficulty: Challenging
Why You Should Go: There are the better-known desert valleys in Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama and Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, but Argentina has a wild, untamed region, too, located in the Jujuy Province in the country’s high, northwestern Andes. On a trek with GeoEx, discover Argentina’s most breathtaking Inca Trail that weaves through small mountain outposts and local communities, delivering you past rivers and jungles from Tilarca to Salta, an area where the illusive puma and jaguar roam free. Beginning in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and ending in Calilegua National Park – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the route passes Pre-Hispanic fortresses, stone pyramids where locals lay offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth), and the Campo de los Alisos National Park, where the scenery dramatically changes to a lush jungle canopy where waterfalls flow in abundance.

03 of 12

Aysén to Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy, Patagonia
Stuart Black/Getty Images
  • Where: Chile
  • Length: 9 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
  • Why You Should Go: Although most travelers go directly to southern Patagonia, northern Patagonia also boasts glaciers, fjords, and wild rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, all set along the Carretera Austral, the southern highway winding through the Aysén region. On a trek with Upscape Travel, spend nine days traversing areas like the recently-opened Patagonia National Park, created by Kristine and Douglas Tompkins to protect 2.2 million acres of pristine Patagonian lands. Located in the Chacabuco Valley, the park is home to the highest levels of biodiversity in the Aysén region – you’ll likely spot huemul deer, pumas, and condors. Trek through verdant woods and past lagoons and waterfalls until you reach the Chilean-Argentine border, where you will cross to southern Argentina for a final hike to Mount Fitz Roy.
04 of 12

Volcano Trek to Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
pxhidalgo/Getty Images
  • Where: Ecuador
  • Length: 6 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Challenging
  • Why You Should Go: Just outside of Quito, Ecuador’s bustling capital, the country’s revered avenue of volcanoes begins. While the avenue includes an array of peaks throughout the region, see the best on a six-day hike with Tierra del Volcán, where each night of camping is juxtaposed with cozy lodge stays at Hacienda El Porvenir and Hacienda El Tambo. Begin with an acclimatization walk in the private reserve of Hacienda Santa Rita then explore the Inca fortress of Pucará del Salitre and see iconic peaks like the Quilindaña, Antisana, Cayambe, and Pasochoa before making the final ascent to Refugio Jose Ribas, set just beneath the summit of towering Volcán Cotopaxi.
05 of 12

Lost City of Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu

Choquequirao, Peru
Alex Robinson/Getty Images

Where: Peru
Length: 13 Days
Level of Difficulty: Challenging
Why You Should Go: In a country known for exceptional trekking, it’s rare to find a less-trodden path. If you have your sights set on Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail or Salkentay routes are ideal, especially with an operator like with Mountain Lodges of Peru, where you can rest in the comfort of a luxurious lodge each evening of the hike. But if you’re seeking an alternative route to the illustrious ruins, then perhaps the Choquequirao trek with Wilderness Travel is for you. Known as The Cradle of Gold, Choquequirao is a former Inca stronghold isolated in the cloud forests above the Apurimac River. It’s just as impressive as Machu Picchu but it’s only accessible by foot, eliminating your likelihood of encountering other travelers.

06 of 12

Tercera Barranca to Sierra Baguales

Sierra Baguales, Chile
Courtesy of Awasi Patagonia
  • Where: Chile
  • Length: Day Hike
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
  • Why You Should Go: Located near Torres del Paine National Park and set along the border of Argentina is Chile’s Sierra Baguales, an undiscovered, pathless, and utterly-perfect region where wild horses, condors, and rheas roam. Here, the mountains harbor a constant sun-drenched glow, and during a stay at Awasi Patagonia in the property’s own Tercera Barranca Private Reserve, you can explore Sierra Baguales during a day hike, which will lead you through five cattle gates, the last of which only Awasi Patagonia holds the key. Truly wild and delightfully untrodden, this is the locale to explore Patagonia serenely, without the intrusion of other trekkers. Pass Catedral and Ciutadella peaks as you ascend the range’s slopes, passing fossilized leaves, shark’s teeth, and tree trunks from over 20 million years ago.
07 of 12

Atins to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
leonard78uk/Getty Images
  • Where: Brazil
  • Length: 3 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
  • Why You Should Go: Located along Brazil’s north Atlantic coast in the State of Maranhão, this barefoot trek with Wildland Adventures only requires socks, as you weave through a region peppered with 30-foot deep freshwater lagoons and 65-foot high sand dunes, lending to its name Lençóis, which means bedsheet in Portuguese. Essentially, you’re walking on silk-strewn air, as the unusual typography in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is unlike any region in the world, composed of large, white dunes where fresh water sits in the valleys due to an unusual rain pattern. Beginning in São Luis do Maranhão, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enjoy quality time in nature on this remote getaway, including mid-day swims in cerulean lakes, full-moon nights where sand illuminates to silver, and unmatched sunsets and sunrises, completely unfettered by light.
08 of 12

Overland Trek to Kaieteur Falls

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Courtesy of World Expeditions
  • Where: Guyana
  • Length: 14 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Why You Should Go: With its rainforest in pristine form, Guyana boasts breathtaking natural beauty accompanied by a rich cultural heritage in an area where you may spot a puma, capybara, red howler monkey, and an array of birds, including the iconic toucan. On a trek with World Expeditions to Kaieteur Falls, explore where few have gone, deep into one of South America’s most unique landscapes, into the wild ecosystems of the Iwokrama Rain Forest, the Burro-Burro River, and, finally, to Kaieteur Falls, one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in the world. Stay in a combination of lodges, guesthouses, camps, and spend a few nights resting in a hammock, all while exploring virgin forests and crossing mountain streams and jungle bridges.
09 of 12

Ausangate Trek to Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Courtesy of FlashpackerConnect
  • Where: Peru
  • Length: 6 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
  • Why You Should Go: Set only three hours from Cusco, the Ausangate Trek is considered the crown jewel of the Andes, and it’s largely tourist-free, as most travelers to Cusco have their sights set on Machu Picchu. Considered one of the holiest mountains in the Cusco region, Ausangate is set near mountain communities where outside influence is sparse. On a journey with FlashpackerConnect, you will cross five mountain passes ranging between 15,000 and 17,000 feet: The landscape will change from snow-capped peaks, to neon deserts, to marshy pampas, culminating in two natural hot springs, the perfect respite for both altitude sickness and tired muscles. But the true prize of this journey is at the trek’s end. When you arrive to Rainbow Mountain, known as Vinicunca to locals, the painted hills of the landscape are sure to transfix you – the highlight of this reverential trek in Peru.
10 of 12

Dientes Circuit on Isla Navarino

Isla Navarino, Chile
Courtesy of Cascada Expediciones
  • Where: Chile
  • Length: 4 days
  • Level of Difficulty: Challenging
  • Why You Should Go: Known as the southernmost trek in the world, the Dientes Circuit on Chile’s Isla Navarino is largely pathless, with cairns as trail markers, making this four-day trail journey with Adventure Life an intrepid adventure as you witness sweeping views across the Beagle Channel to Tiera del Fuego and south from Nassau Bay to the Wollaston Islands and Cape Horn. Hike past the jagged peaks of the Dientes de Navarino, and stay in idyllic camp sites at Salto Lagoon, Martillo Lagoon, and Los Guanacos Lagoon. For the final push, ascend to Ventarron Pass for an unprecedented view of Mount Codrington before ending with a climb up Virginia Pass to Montes Lindemayer, granting you a well-deserved rest at Lakutaia Lodge, the first sub-Antarctic lodge in the world.
11 of 12

Summit Trek to Mount Roraima

Mount Roraima
Courtesy of Wild Frontiers
  • Where: Venezuela
  • Length: 8 Days
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
  • Why You Should Go: Requiring an entire week to complete, the journey to Mount Roraima in Venezuela is one of South America’s greatest treks. On a trip with Wild Frontiers, begin hiking the flat, Venezuelan savannah toward the Kukenan River before reaching the sheer rock wall marking the upward slope to Mount Roraima, the tallest tabletop mountain in the Gran Sabana and a natural border delineating Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. Just under 10,000 feet above sea level, the towering peak provides unprecedented views of Venezuela’s dense jungle, hidden valleys, tranquil lagoons, and cascading streams.
12 of 12

El Chaltén to Laguna de los Tres

Laguna de los Tres, Argentina
Courtesy of Say Hueque
  • Where: Argentina
  • Length: Day Hike
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate
  • Why You Should Go: A trip to Argentine Patagonia isn’t complete without trekking Laguna de Los Tres, a trail which harbors one of the best views of iconic Mount Fitz Roy in Los Glaciares National Park.During a trip with Say Hueque, discover the charming mountain outpost of El Chaltén: Set only 75 miles from popular El Calafate, most travelers will be enticed with visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier, but don’t miss this trek, which begins with a steep incline and extends past the Poincenot base camp. After a final ascent up rock scree and weather permitting, you’re granted an unobstructed view of Mount Fitz Roy set beneath a turquoise pool juxtaposed against the brushed grey of granite peaks.
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